Saturday, June 30, 2012

Stop. Compose. Repeat.

As the plane from Iceland landed in Heathrow airport in London, I didn't even want to get off. The realization that I was at my destination, in another country, where I knew absolutely nobody hit me hard and scared me badly. Suddenly, I began to doubt myself. Why on earth did I do this? I couldn't handle this! Who did I think I was, coming to another country, trying to get around on my own?

Once I got into the airport, it seemed every few yards there was a sign that said "baggage claim" with an arrow directing passengers. I soon ran into the line where passports are checked. I got through without a problem, and continued onward. At baggage claim, I had to stop against a wall, regain composure, and then continue.My bag would be on carrousel five. I found it, rolled it over by some chairs, stopped again, had to remember to breathe and convince myself not to cry, and then go on.

I headed to the exit, which was not so much an exit as an entrance to another room where a sign proudly announced "The Meeting Point," and other passengers were greeted by smiles and hugs from friends and family. Again, I had to wheel my luggage over by a wall, and regain composure as best I could. I then headed to exchange some currency and get a taxi, in which I most definitely let a tear or two fall.

I wanted to doze off the entire taxi ride, both from physical and emotional exhaustion. When the driver pulled up to the address of the hostel I booked, he said, "Did you know it was a pub, Miss?" I did not. I made sure to research the hostels I booked well, and online this particular hostel said it was a no smoking, no drinking facility. Nevertheless, I got out of the cab, with my things, went in, checked in at the bar/front desk (where a man clearly shared my thoughts that I was in the wrong place), and went to my room above the pub.

For anyone else, this might not be a big deal. I completely understand that. Many other people would have been fine in this situation. But I live a self-sheltered life by choice. I am a person who chooses to separate myself from certain things. So here I was, about to have a nervous breakdown, and all I could do was pull my computer out, connect to the WiFi, and message my best friend. After a sufficient amount of complaining to him, I emailed my aunt, who told me she would get a notification on her phone, so she could reply right away. That's exactly what happened, and as we exchanged emails, I looked for single rooms in hotels nearby for the next three nights. I also looked for a church affiliated with the UPCI (United Pentecostal Church International, the organization my church is part of). I had no luck in the former, but the latter I found. Bishop Leroy Francis, superintendent of the UK, had a church that seemed nearby.

My mom was emailing me by this point as well, trying to help find me a different place to stay. With little luck, we decided the best thing would be for me to pack up my things and head to the church. My grandmother would try to call the church to talk to them about things when she got home. With this decision, I headed downstairs, checked out, got an unexpected refund for the next two nights, and had a cab called for myself. The cab got there within fifteen minutes, and the church wasn't far at all.

I stood alone with my bags in the church's parking lot after the cab drove away. maneuvering my things to the door, I pressed the call button. "Yes? Can I help you?" a female voice with an accent answered. I paused, not knowing exactly what to say, "Um, is there Bible study tonight?" I asked stupidly, recalling the 7:30 Bible study time for that night I had seen on their website. "Yes," the voice answered, then followed it up with, "Who is this?" "My name is Denise," I said. "Denise M---?"she asked, including my last name. A bit puzzled, I answered, "Yes..." "Just a moment please," she said, and within a few seconds, people were at the door, ushering me in, and the phone was handed to me.

My grandmother happened to be on the phone with the church staff that very moment. Hearing her voice, and being surrounded by people who at least believed what I believed and knew some people I knew was a comfort in the chaos. I met some people, wrote down my home church's information for the pastor, helped prepare some cards for mailing, and stayed for the Bible study. Afterwards, I went home with Sister Monica, a lady who worked at the church, who had answered when I buzzed at the front door, and who had been on the phone with my grandma.
It's amazing how everything worked out. What can I say? I serve an in-control God.

Iceland: My Brief Encounter

I won't have much to say about Iceland, seeing as how I didn't actually visit there.

I don't know why, but I was surprised that the safety presentation and announcements came first in Icelandic, then in English on the plane. The airline being Icelandair, I guess this shouldn't have surprised me.

It was a very nice flight, as nice as a flight that length can be anyway. Personally, I don't sleep well on planes; this one was no different. Although the flight was overnight (departing Denver at 5:15pm, arriving in Iceland at 6:35 am), it never got dark. I assume this was because of how far north we were flying.

When we arrived in Iceland, I was greeted by a field of light purple flowers, waving in the breeze. Once inside the airport, first thing was first: I needed to find the gate my plane to London took off from. The plane would depart at 7:40. Now in a larger airport like Chicago O' Hare or even DIA, it might take the majority of that hour I had to find and get to the gate. Because of this, a wave of panic hit me. What if I couldn't figure out where I needed to be? My boarding pass didn't even have a gate number! Since I had no idea what the first sign I happened to look at said, I approached a desk in the terminal. I asked the lady behind it if she could tell me where I needed to be and showed her my boarding pass. She looked at it, looked at her computer, and told me to go around the corner to gate 31. It literally was around the corner, and when I got there, it struck me how tiny the airport was. We boarded the plane shortly, but not before I bought a postcard and got some change from my purchase in Iceland's currency.

(This is not what I got, but I did get all of these coins except the 50KR one)

Before, I would have been surprised Iceland wasn't a giant chunk of ice, but my twelve-year-old brother informed me not long ago that he learned in school that Iceland is really green, and Greenland is really icy. I wouldn't describe what I saw of Iceland to be green, but it was nice nonetheless.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Here we go...

I'm sitting here at my gate at DIA. My grandma, my mom, my aunt, my little brother, and my little cousin all came to see me off, so I had quite an entourage! I fly to Reykjavik first, then to London from there. My last few days have been filled with spending time with family and friends and finishing up packing. I can hardly believe this day is already here! I'm so excited, and a little nervous to be honest. This will truly be a huge adventure! Can't wait to see what this trip brings! Email me if you need to get a hold of me! See you soon!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Getting Closer and Closer...

Well, the day is getting closer. I leave next Monday. I can hardly believe that this is all really happening! You cannot imagine how excited I am!
Sunday I got some things I needed for my trip, including a suitcase (of the giant, purple variety). Realizing I'll be gone for an entirety of nearly 40 days, I'm very glad we can do laundry at the hostel ISM has for us!

Next Monday evening, June 25, I will be flying out of Denver International Airport. I will arrive in Iceland early the next morning where I have a layover a little over an hour. I should arrive in London around 11am local time on June 26. I'll stay there for a few days, and leave to Vilnius on the afternoon of Friday, June 29.

Yesterday I booked my return flights. I will have to get to St. Louis when I return, not just back to Denver. I'll be staying in Vilnius an extra week for their youth camp (July 23-27), which Shasta Miller, the missionary's wife, told me about. However, I can't stay for the entire thing. I'm involved in Bible Quizzing with my church, and I absolutely love it. There is an age limit, so this year is my last. We are going to Nationals in St. Louis, Missouri, and the orientation is on July 28. My team is predictably driving there, so they'll be leaving a day before orientation. Fortunately, I found a way around this potential complication. When I searched, the cheapest one way flight to St. Louis from Vilnius on July 28 was over $1200, and on July 25-27, prices weren't much better. This was not ideal, so I did a bit more looking around. I will be flying back from Vilnius to New York, and I have about a 7 hour layover in Ukraine. I'll be leaving Vilnius the morning of Thursday, July 26, and arriving in New York that evening. I'll stay there that night, have a day in New York, and then fly to St. Louis the morning of Saturday, July 28. I should arrive in St. Louis around 1pm, on time for orientation and everything. Surprisingly, going this way, even with staying in New York for two nights, will be between $400 and $500 cheaper than that original $1200 I found. Plus, I get a day in New York on the way back! Who wouldn't be okay with that? Nationals will last a few days in St. Louis, then I'll drive back to Denver with my Bible Quizzing team.

So now you all have an idea of my itinerary.

Tomorrow I start packing!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

"Looking at Lithuania"

This has been interesting to say the least; it's been quite busy and hectic. In the midst of the liveliness, we found a bit of time to take a trip to the library.
My little brother (who will be going into the seventh grade in the fall) needs to do some summer reading to stay on track. I didn't think about looking at books to research Lithuania, but while we were there it dawned on me that I probably should. Up to this point, I had only been researching online for myself. So I ran a search and located a short, family-friendy book. I figured we could all look at it together, and of course, my grandmother was very glad about that.

The book I checked out contains brief history and information about the geography, the people, the cuisine, and more. We started reading it together, and it's been very informative and beneficial so far, granted the book is a little dated.
It's just about two weeks until I leave, so I think it's been a great idea to help my family learn a little bit more about where I'm going.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Only the Beginning...

This week, everything has really started to hit me. It's all so much more real now.
Monday, I wired the tuition money to ISM University of Management and Economics in Vilnius. From then on, everything was much more definite than it had been before.
I'm really doing this! I can hardly believe it!
Yesterday, on my nineteenth birthday, I gave a gift to myself, plane tickets. I had been thinking about going to Europe early and going somewhere before I head to Vilnius. If I can, why not, right? This opportunity may not come around again. So the first ticket I bought was from here in Denver to London. I will be leaving on Monday, June 25. That's right around the corner, really! From London, I'll be going to Vilnius, arriving late on Friday night, June 29. I'm sure I'll meet with Tony and Shasta Miller soon after I arrive, and classes will start on Monday, July 2. You cannot even fathom my excitement, I assure you!

All Things Work Together for Good

My name is Denise, and I am a student at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. In this blog, I will be sharing about my travels this summer as I study abroad in Vilnius, Lithuania. First, I'd like to share with you how this all got started...

At the beginning of this year, I decided I wanted to do something new and exciting with my life, and I wanted to do it soon. I needed some adventure. As far as I could see, I had two pretty obvious routes that could get me there: I could go on a missions trip through a church organization, Apostolic Youth Corps (AYC), or I could study abroad through my college, the Monfort College of Business. Regardless, I wanted something completely different in my life.

I realized I would definitely have to choose one or the other. It wasn't a matter of applying for both and going from there; it was a matter of which to apply for, as they both had sizable application fees and processes, and I knew I would only end up doing one. Being a logical person, I took to thinking and asking advice about my decision. Being a spiritual person, I took to praying about it.

Now, I thought my decision would be obvious. After praying, surely I would end up being swayed to a missions trip. But I wanted to pray about where to go too; AYC offers several options for summer missions trips, and I didn't want to choose one solely based on that I knew the leaders of a certain trip or that I had friends going on a certain trip. However, as I prayed, I didn't feel particularly drawn to any place. In fact, I hardly felt anything, an oddity for me while praying about foreign missions.

Then everything started falling in place for the study abroad trip, something I had hardly looked into at all. I came across a study abroad fair at my school and got some information. Of course, I picked up pamphlets for places like Australia, Italy, and Spain, places everyone wants to go. However, I also picked up a packet of specific summer programs the Monfort College of Business was offering. Of these, only one seemed possible; there was only one trip that was both in my price range and didn't interfere with other commitments I already had. This trip was to ISM University of Management and Economics in Vilnius, Lithuania. I remembered where Lithuania was from seventh grade world geography, but I didn't know anything about the country. I had no real desire to go there. Nevertheless, I added it to my list of possibilities and to my prayers.

As the application deadlines approached, I knew I had to make a decision. I had been thinking and praying for over two months, but my prayers had changed from being about whether I should do a missions trip or study abroad to where I should go on a missions trip. But still, to my dismay, I felt next to nothing about the missions trips. This really lead me to believe that I wasn't in a good place spiritually, but I proceeded with the only thing I knew to do and applied for the study abroad trip in Vilnius, Lithuania.

My grandmother, who raised me in church, was a bit skeptical about my decision. She knew I'd been praying about the missions trips and couldn't imagine that I ended up deciding to apply for a study abroad trip instead. "Well, do they have any missionaries there in Lithuania?" she asked. I promised her I'd look, but upon searching our church organization's website, I found none. I decided to withhold this information from her until I knew for sure whether I was even accepted to the program or not. A few days later, the news came that I had been accepted. I was excited, but also conflicted. I told my grandmother and a few others that I had been accepted, but I did not share that I had not found missionaries there.

The following Sunday, I went to the church in Loveland I'd been attending that semester. Being the oldest "youth" but the youngest "adult," I had been switching back and forth between going to the youth or the adult Sunday school classes. This particular Sunday, I chose to go to the youth class since I hadn't been in a few weeks. The pastor, Pastor Greg Albritton, taught the youth class, and before we started he said he would like to show us a video of the ministry work that some friends of his had been doing. He played the video, and I'm sure my jaw dropped as the word "Lithuania" appeared on the screen. Then the caption "2005-2010" came up, and I assumed they'd already left. When the caption "2011 to present" came up, in my doubting nature, I speculated to myself that the church was probably very far from the university in Vilnius, because this was just too good to be true. Then the caption "Vilnius House of Worship" came up, and all my doubts were silenced. I was simply amazed. For me, this was confirmation of more than one thing. First of all, I took it as confirmation that I did the right thing by applying for the study abroad trip. Second, I had been a bit unsure as to whether I should be at the church in Loveland, as I had been going to church in Johnstown during the fall semester, but this seemed to be so much of a "right place at the right time" situation that I could no longer doubt that either. Of course, I couldn't wait to share this news! I told family, friends, and of course, Pastor Albritton, right away. Through Pastor Albritton, I got in touch with the missionaries in Vilnius, Tony and Shasta Miller. I've included their website below:

When I look back and reflect on how this entire thing worked out, I am amazed. I never imagined that I would get an opportunity like this, and I certainly never could have guessed how it all fell together. Seeing the big picture of this, the only thing that comes to mind is a Bible verse...
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28

 Vilnius, Lithuania